Norwegian Breakaway – Feb. 1-8, 2020
Great Stirrup Cay; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; Cozumel
Random thoughts on our cruise – this is longer that I expected! I had a great time with my two sisters on our annual cruise. This was my first NCL cruise and they had both cruised NCL once a number of years ago. I’ve cruised mostly on Royal, but also have done Carnival, Celebrity and Princess. We were in room 11639- Inside Cabin. Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.
· Embarkation was quick! We got to the port about 11:30 and were sitting down for lunch in Savor at noon!
· Debarkation was the fastest ever! We did self-assist but weren’t getting picked up until 9:30 am so we had a wonderful, leisurely breakfast in Savor with a nice view of the beautiful Disney ship. We literally grabbed our bags and just kept walking! We never stopped except to show our ship card and the customs face recognition (very quick scan of your face from a hand-held device). All along our walk-out, we encountered friendly NCL crew wishing us off – very nice touch NCL! When we reached the gangway, we saw a ton of people but this was moving at a fast clip and we literally never stopped walking and made it outside the terminal in no time!
· Crew: This was by far the friendliest and most helpful crew I’ve ever met! They were always smiling or greeting us, they were highly visible and there always seemed to be someone around. I think this has to come from the top down – they just seemed like a well-oiled machine with a focus on making their guests happy and it showed everywhere! They also seemed to have a good rapport with each other and a team sort of atmosphere. At the end of Burn the Floor, they had the captains and some of the crew from various areas; housekeeping; food & beverage, etc… come down to the stage for an appreciation. The crew walked down the aisle with their country flags and we were all tearing up – it was such a heartfelt moment to see them all assemble on the stage and then when we filed out of the theater, they all stood in a line so we could shake their hands and say hello (really goodbye, since this was our last night L).
· Room Steward: Our room was always clean and neat but we never figured out who they were! We didn’t need to ask for anything so we never saw our room steward(s). They never introduced themselves or even came around towards the end of the cruise in hopes of getting an extra tip. We were thinking maybe they work in groups and tag-team the room cleaning? Maybe someone with NCL experience can answer on that. We ended up leaving a cash tip on the desk when we left – in hindsight, that was kind of dumb but we were in an inside cabin and when we went to leave our cabin with our luggage, there were some other families in our small hallway also leaving so it was a bit chaotic and tight so we didn’t take the time to try and find our room steward. All in all, I have no doubt that if we needed anything during our cruise they would have assisted without issue.
· Our Cabin: It was SMALL!!!! I’ve stayed mostly in inside cabins but this one was small. I definitely will check the square footage before booking them as I just kind of figured they’d be somewhat similar in size. This one was 129 sf and the one my sister and I had on the Carnival Horizon was 179 sf! Having said that, I’ll take a small, inside cabin any day if that meant being on a cruise so we made the best of it. I was in the pull down, which was VERY comfortable. The bathroom felt roomier than I expected and we made good use of the space with a shoe rack, magnet hooks, putting our suit cases under the bed, and packing cubes to stay organized.
· Cocktails: Best cocktails I’ve had on any cruise hands down! I like cosmos and manhattans but also drank quite a few Bulleit Bourbon and ginger-ales. Two of us had the drink package and that was our first time ever having one and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I definitely drank more than normal and don’t think I’d spring for the drink packages on other lines due to the overall cost, but it was fun having it on this cruise. Bartenders were really quick and awesome – didn’t have long waits for drinks that I can recall. The fellow who was serving drinks in the Breakaway Theater was awesome and made our ½ hour pre-show waits really enjoyable. I don’t know how he was able to keep that tray upright while walking up and down the stairs – one night was pretty rocky! The Martini Bar was our favorite but I got an excellent Manhattan from the Whiskey Bar one night.
· Drink Tastings- 6 samples (I think it was $20 each, with 20% discount if you had the drink package): We all did the martini tasting and that was a blast! The drinks were really good and we were feeling no pain after it! Two of us did the Mojito tasting and that was great also. We tried to get into the wine tasting but it was sold out. The guy that was running the tastings was funny and he was really silly (tipsy?) at the Mojito tasting. Definitely recommend it as it was just an enjoyable event. It was held in the Ocean Blue restaurant and both times we have a nice outside view. You don’t have to sign up in advance for it but if the sea day is not too nice, I’d recommend you go about 15 minutes before the start time.
· MDR: I was very impressed with the food overall. The MDR food was excellent all around and the desserts were really first rate! For dinner we did the Manhattan room I think three times and Savor once – all excellent! Service each time was quick, efficient and friendly. Not drawn out at all and not rushed either – perfect pacing! We didn’t do any specialty dining, except lunch at Margartaville. Because NC L was new to us (mostly) we just wanted to try all the complimentary food offerings. We had dinner at O’Sheehan’s once and none of us were bowled over. The food was mediocre – wings, burgers and dessert. We never went back – not that we wouldn’t have given it another try, but once we just ended up finding other food venues we liked better.
· Garden Café (Buffet): We did the buffet a few times (2 dinners and 1 lunch) and we all really liked it. The food we had was tasty. The selections weren’t quite as large as we’ve had on other lines – i.e., only a few cheeses for a selection, no cocktail shrimp, salad bar pretty basic, etc… but plenty of selections to keep most everyone happy. The buffet tables were very clean and very quickly cleared, with lots of crew around all the time. We never had a problem getting a seat and in fact, they do close down one side until it is prime time and if you just go around to that side to sit, it was quiet. I also liked that the buffet seating area wasn’t huge in terms of width from the windows to the aisle where the food is. On some of the other lines, like RCL Oasis and Harmony, you feel like you are weaving through so many tables to get around and it is dog-eat-dog to get a table (we avoided it unless we were desperate). The buffet on Breakaway just seemed so relaxed and chill to. Maybe we timed it well, not sure. The buffet is open all day until 11:30 – we liked that too. RCL has limited times they are open so in off-peak times it wasn’t an option, although they had other grab-n-go food options, which we did not find on the Breakaway. Not a biggie, just a difference we noticed. I like that they have a bar in the buffet for wine and beer, plus they have the self-serve wine dispensers that you get by the ounce. We didn’t use them but a nice option for those that do! There is also a full bar just outside the buffet for mixed drinks to bring in there.
· Entertainment: We saw SIX, Burn The Floor, Switch (band) and the Comedian Magician (can’t recall his name). The Magician was awesome – so funny and clever! Burn the Floor was fantastic – great dancing and routines as well as lively music. SIX was not necessarily my cup of tea but the performers were very talented and I enjoyed the show. They were a bit hard to understand due to the British accent and at times the singing being a little loud/shrill. I would still recommend it and if you like plays and musicals, definitely see it. We did make reservations in advance so make sure to do so – take you best guess as to when you might want to go and book it as it seems to sell out pretty quick. We got to the Breakaway Theater about a ½ before and got seats in the first few rows every performance and enjoyed a cocktail while we were waiting – loved that drink package! That is a really pretty and comfortable theater.
· Syd Norman’s – we saw Switch a couple of nights there– they were really good and fun but my sisters weren’t super into it and didn’t like standing as all the seats were taken, so we never really got into it. I don’t like seeing live rock music sitting down – I prefer to stand and dance/move around, but don’t want to be front and center on the dance floor unless it is packed! That venue has most of the people sitting down at tables/booths and the whole area in between that and the stage is empty because you are somewhat discouraged from standing there as you’d be blocking the sitting people (unless a brave soul wants to start dancing and other people join in). Maybe we just hit it on off nights as I’ve heard great things about it so I was looking forward to it.
· Coffee: The free coffee served throughout the ship was actually pretty good! We are all coffee drinkers so we were pleasantly surprised and didn’t need to seek out the Starbucks to supplement. Speaking of coffee, we knew they served Starbucks at the bake shop on deck 8 but couldn’t figure out why they didn’t have better hours – I think they opened at 10 or 11 am and closed at 5 each day? We didn’t realize until the last sea day that there was a full Starbucks in the Atrium! But hold your judgement until you read further down – it will make sense I promise!
· MargaritaVille – I heard this is being replaced with an ala-carte Diner. Great spot on the ship but underutilized and I wasn’t impressed with the margarita’s there. We had lunch there once but in my opinion too pricy at $20 bucks for the food– we thought it was $15. You end up eating too much because you are paying (our fault, not theirs!) and although the food was great (especially that key lime pie), it just wasn’t a good value considering the other complimentary options available. We did the complimentary breakfast there once and it was ok, but the view was really nice. We actually did sail-away from there because it was rainy that day.
· Breakfast: We ended up having all our breakfasts at the complimentary buffet on deck 8 – the Waterfront (Moderno & Cagneys). Good variety of foods and if you like poached eggs, DO NOT miss the poached egg of the day (it was on the Cagney’s side). I had the one with guacamole and another with chourice – perfectly cooked, hot and scrumptious. My sister felt that the coffee there was never hot enough – it was fine for me though! We were able to sit outside to eat each day and enjoy the waterfront so that was really awesome, especially having an inside room, it was nice to get up and have a relaxing breakfast seaside! Speaking of the Waterfront – this is such a great feature on this ship. You can get your morning walking laps in there, sit and relax with a book, get some drinks in the afternoon or evening and really just have a beautiful space to meet up and enjoy the sunset or sea day.
· Other Fun Stuff: We did the “Escape the Big Top”. Well, not really – way too hard! Not one group got close to escaping! It was just OK. I kind of checked out and lost interest once I realized that there was no way in hell we were going to solve any of the clues! I think it would be more fun with one large group of friends. We had two other couples who joined us so it was a little awkward and just not as much fun as it would be with a group of people you already know and can goof around with. I was dragged to a beauty demonstration at one of the restaurants…hate that stuff!!! It was all about skin care but due to it being a poor weather day, they weren’t expecting the larger than normal turnout (30 maybe?), that they ran out of the wipes to get the cleanser off your face. My sister’s eyes were stinging until they got more wipes. I was the smart one and just sat back and observed. There was no way in hell I was taking off my makeup that I had just spent precious time applying for the day and have to spend time reapplying – I had a Mojito tasting to get to!
· This ship is COLD!!!! I found the indoor venues to be really chilly, so bring a sweater ladies!
· Atrium/Casino/O’Sheehan’s Pub/Atrium Bar: This was our main complaint about the ship because the smoke from that casino permeated this whole area. I don’t recall ever being on a cruise ship and having the smoke infiltrate such a large and somewhat critical part of the public space and activities. I just don’t think this area is great for the activities that they do in the atrium, unless you park yourself on a seat for the day – it’s too small. This leads me to the Starbucks mentioned earlier. We never saw the Starbucks because we avoided this whole area as much as possible. It wasn’t until the last day where we had rainy weather and were up early(ish) in the morning, that we were sitting around at breakfast at Moderno, complaining about them not having a Starbucks or good coffee shop. We probably went on for about 10 minutes about how much revenue they were missing from not having a good coffee shop open for longer hours than what you could get a the Bake Shop on deck 8! We then wandered down to the Atrium, and because it was early and the Atrium Bar was empty we finally saw the full Starbucks in the corner! We never saw it because whenever we walked through the Atrium or viewed it from O’Sheehan’s, that Atrium Bar and area was so crowded you couldn’t see it unless you were looking for it! We got a nice Starbucks coffee and sat in the internet area (didn’t know they had that either), and were able to enjoy a trivia game and a Best Cake Maker challenge (really cute and entertaining)! I usually know every venue on a ship and the layout before I get on it but I think we were so turned off by this main area that I just forgot to look for a coffee shop there. They serve the same cupcakes there in Starbucks that they have in the Bake Shop. I did have a mini-cupcake from the Bake Shop – it was just OK and not worth the $2.50.
· Excursion and Tender Day: Getting off the ship for these two activities seemed very chaotic and unorganized so we were expecting the worst. It ended up being perfectly fine and speedy but we had that feeling of dread like it was going to be a complete mess! We had booked Tender B believe so we were having our usual Waterfront breakfast when they started calling the letters. They blew past them so quick that we started to get anxious that we were going to have a very long wait by the time we got down there. When we got down to that area, we heard a crew member telling someone, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter what letter you have, you can go when you want…WHAAAT?!?. Again, just some confusion all around but it ended up being really quick for the tender. The excursion was similar- a bit chaotic but in the end, it was fine and the wait was not long.
· Pools: The main pool is ultra-crowded on sea days and really loud (pretty typical). We did enjoy it when we came back from Grand Cayman early. We aren’t “sit in the sun all day” people – we like to move around a lot, so this wasn’t an issue for us at all and loungers could be found in other areas. I wasn’t crazy about Spice H2O – I thought it would be great but we did get some loungers early on a sea day and sat for about 1 ½ hours but I just felt like we were in a sea of loungers out in the open. This is just the design of that area since it’s used for dance parties and such – it just feels cavernous and we just didn’t care for it and we moved on. We did watch some of the Super Bowl there – standing in the back as we came in late. That was fun. I like the grotto feature. It was freezing cold but on a hot day I could see hanging out there more than the dance area. There is a lot of cig smoke at the bar and in that area so we stayed on the other side. I did the slides but not the drop one (I chickened out). We wanted to do the ropes course but it wasn’t open when we went up there and our last sea day was rainy. Next time!
· Ports: We could not tender I Great Stirrup Cay. We anticipated that since we were sailing I February and were not surprised by that. We also didn’t book anything for Grand Cayman figuring that might happen there but it was a beautiful day. Ocho Rios, we had booked the Zipline and Tubing thru NCL – I’d give it a 3.5 of 5 stars. The guide on the river tubing was fantastic and that guy worked his ass off corralling us and diving in and under us to keep us moving and safe. Getting to the tubing was not great and we waited for about 45 min’s in the sometimes rain for them to bring more tubes for our group – we weren’t too happy. The water was pretty cold, which we expected but once we got in the tubes, it was really fun and beautiful! The zipline part was fun – not GREAT, but a decent experience. One sister of mine was pretty scared and followed me to the first landing and I thought they were going to have to peel her off that platform – she was freaked and shaking like crazy! She rallied though and we finished the zipline just fine. The drive to the zipline place is pretty hairy but our driver was excellent and gave us a good history of the area. We didn’t have the jerk chicken at the zip line place but I’m not going to lie it smelled REALLY good when we were coming back from the tubing. Not a great place to change clothes for the ladies – either in the stall (ick) or in the open area on the bathroom where anyone can see you (we opted for that though as we were COLD and wanted out of our wet clothes)! I had heard great things about Nachi Cocom in Cozumel so I had booked that quite far in advance. It is all inclusive and pretty quiet, small. It was nice and the food was pretty good. The drinks were mega weak!!! I probably could have asked for a better drink but didn’t really care that much since I had the drink package on the ship. We’ve done Paradise Beach and Chankannab before and next year we’ll probably do ParadiseBeach – Nachi was a little too sedate and not enough action. Glad we tried it though.
· Overall, my first NCL cruise was great and I would definitely try them again. At the beginning of the week, I said that the casino/atrium issue was a deal breaker in doing this class of ships for me but now that I know the lay of the land more and have a better handle on what activities and areas of the ship I really liked, I would sail her again.